Candidates for Guv, Up Close and Personal

March 09, 1994|By BRUCE L. BORTZ

Permit me, this once, to write in the first person. The reason: I think it's useful to pass along what I know of the gubernatorial candidates as people.

For my money, Parris Glendening is the warmest, most down-to-earth of the hopefuls. When I first interviewed him at length almost three years ago, it was at a new hotel restaurant near his Upper Marlboro office. Like everyone else, he waited in line until a table was available.

Before we got into substance, he asked about me; during a decade of interviewing important people, he was the first to do that. During the interview, he must have waved hello to dozens of people. Self-effacingly, he observed, ''If I don't know these people after being in county office for so long, I've done something wrong.''

Throughout the interview, and especially on the subject of education, Mr. Glendening mentioned his son, and while I'm not much on names, I can't forget ''Raymond'' as a result. Later, during a tour of the not-yet-finished Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he made a real point of talking to Raymond, despite the bevy of other county executives around them.

Everyone says Helen Bentley's a real tough egg, and she is. I remember asking her, nearly a year ago, how she would deal with her relationship with Governor Schaefer if she got into the race. ''I don't want to talk about it,'' she snapped. A raw nerve struck, yes, yet indicative, I suspect, of her style -- ''the best defense is an overwhelming offense.''

But there's a warm, vulnerable, human side to Mrs. Bentley, too, though she's loath to show it. During an interview at the 1992 Republican National Convention, she told me, with real conviction, that her greatest satisfaction in office was ''helping people.'' Making a difference in people's lives was what made her arduous, solitary public life worth continuing, she suggested.

During that same convention, I spent a full day with Mrs. Bentley, and, as often happens in such situations, we got separated at one point. She refused to return to state party headquarters until I was found. Then, the first thing she said after I was brought to the car, was: ''Have you had anything to eat?'' (I hadn't.)

I've probably had more contact with Mickey Steinberg than with any of the candidates. But, though I've racked my brain, I can't think of a single time when he's related to me as a person. Oh, he's talked often and proudly of his family, and of his tradition of being home for Friday night dinner. But I don't think I know him as a person.

Perhaps it's that he is always ''on,'' always anxious to take center stage and to entertain. Or perhaps it's that he thinks the way to relate to people is to play the role of raconteur. In any event, he and I simply don't connect at a human level.

Over the years, I've talked with Bill Shepard several times, twice at length during formal interviews. The first interview was conducted in my home. He noticed my cat having problems with hairballs. Afterward, he sent me an unfinished prescription one of his cats had used successfully.

Last year, trying to catch up on things. I was up early and phoned ''Shepard Campaign Headquarters,'' expecting to leave a brief message requesting an interview. No -- I had reached his home, and his sleeping wife, Lois, who politely suggested I call back later. I didn't, though I kept thinking that a publicity-anxious candidate would promptly take the initiative himself. He didn't. Months later, I got a friendly note from Bill: ''Ready any time for an interview. Just call at a civilized hour to request one.''

I first spoke with Mary Boergers in late March last year. At her seat on the floor of the Maryland Senate, she told me she hadn't made up her mind about running for governor. Later, she told a radio audience and various groups she had made up her mind in February. Ouch!

Then I ran an item in my newsletter describing how Sen. Jack Cade had publicly ridiculed her with an ungentlemanly taunt. Mrs. Boergers phoned to assure me she hadn't been embarrassed by the episode.

On another occasion, I asked her if, at some point, she might consider becoming a lieutenant-governor candidate. She leaned across the table and practically bit my head off. ''I hope you'd ask that same question of Parris Glendening and Mickey Steinberg,'' she growled.

The inquiry made me think. But it hadn't been an unfair or sexist question, I concluded; Mrs. Boergers simply wasn't of their stature. Conclusion: no real personal connections there either.

When I first approached Ellen Sauerbrey to do an interview for my newsletter, it was almost as if I'd swept her off her feet. The media hadn't paid much attention to her, even though she was coming more into her own as an Annapolis force.

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